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Flipped Learning and On-line education (KB, LH, SG) - Page 2

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3. Criticism of Flipped Learning and how to address them online


Flipped learning is not new, but goes back to“Inverting the Classroom” A Gateway to Creating an Inclusive Learning Environment” (Lage, Platt and Treglia, 2000).  In fact, the notions of learner-centredness, the educator as a guide and the importance of active learning is in the tradition of constructivist, experiential pedagogical theories. Indeed, other approaches which draw on these traditions would meet the EEF definition of flipped learning, yet pre-date it considerably. This includes problem-based learning (PBL) in medicine, which was pioneered at McMaster University in the late 1960s and in which "students tackle problems in small groups under the supervision of a tutor" (Schmidt, 1993, p. 428) and the casebook method in law, developed at Harvard law School in the 1920s (Fraser 1931, cited in Schmidt, 1993), both of which require students to undertake preparation work prior to lessons. The various and developing definitions of flipped learning indicate that its proponents are struggling to pin down its exact characteristics and establish how it is different from other approaches which may draw on similar principles. 


PBL and other 'minimally guided' approaches have been criticised for being less effective than studying worked examples early in the learning process, due to the increased cognitive load they place on novice learners (Kirschner, Sweller and Clark, 2006). Flipped learning is vulnerable to such criticisms, depending on the design of the learning activities, as the initial exposure to content occurs both online and remote from the teacher which  increases the risk of cognitive overload for learners.


Flipped learning typically makes extensive use of videos and podcasts as pre-classroom resources for students (Bergman and Sams, 2012; Schell, 2013). However a recent study indicates that brain activity is at its lowest during lectures, lower even than during sleep. The increased cognitive stress of "studying, doing homework or taking an exam" was hypothesised to be the cause of daytime peak intervals of brain activity. Peak intervals  noted during sleep were absent for periods relating to attending classes and watching television. (Poh, Swenson and Picard, 2010, p. 1250). Azevedo (2002, p. 31) asserts that "learning involves more than just... objects embedded in a computer-based learning environment. Learning is a complex phenomenon that includes an intricate and complex interaction between neural, cognitive, motivational, affective, and social processes." Palloff and Pratt (2007) argue that it is unsuitable to convert classroom content to e-learning simply by moving it online because this ignores the different nature of the new technologies. These are all salient arguments against making extensive use of video lectures online as part of flipped learning, which would not support deep learning. Some interpretations of flipped learning include an after-class stage, where there is an opportunity for more reflective learning, often through posting on a discussion forum, such as in Jordan-Baker's (2001) four step summary. However, this fails to address previous criticisms of the poor pedagogical value of discussion forums that are implemented as extras rather than core components of a course (Caplan and Graham, 2008). 



"Moving to a solely online delivery method will require additional support structures to ensure that learners and teachers can monitor progress as learners complete tasks" (Strayer, 2009, p. 192). Salmon discusses the importance of "participants learn[ing] about working online along with learning about the topic, and with and through other people" (2001, p. 31 italics author's own). Salmon's (2001) five-stage model for collaborative online learning (see diagram below), focuses on "wider interaction between groups of peers usually with the e-moderator as the mediator and supporter" (2001, p. 31) and begins with access and motivation, followed by online socialisation and only at stage 3 do tasks and learning materials feature. This is in contrast to the approach advocated by flipped learning, where the tasks and materials come first, followed by socialisation, knowledge construction and development. Discussions of technical support and motivation in flipped learning are conspicuous by their absence. 


Figure 3:  Salmon's 5-stage model (2001, p.  32)


Tsui (2002) identifies two key variables among participants initially: attitudes and ability to get effective help. Salmon recognises this in her model at stage 1, also incorporating the issue of motivation to 'spend time and effort, and to return to participation regularly" (2011, p. 34). "Motivation to take part, and continue to take part, occurs when there is a balance between regular and frequent opportunities to contribute, and the capacity of learners to respond to the invitations. The best participant experiences occur when both the challenges and the skills to respond are high" (ibid., p. 35). "It is also motivating at the start to make it very clear to participants the value of online, its links to and integration with the rest of the course, its role in assessed components (tests and assignments) and the amount of time they should allocate to its use" (ibid., p. 35). 


Perhaps the most salient risk with flipped learning is whether students complete stage 1 so they are able to engage with the learning at stage 2. While it is every teacher’s primary aim to maximise students' intrinsic motivation, it may be more realistic, especially with younger cohorts of students, to include some degree of credit for completing tasks at stage 1, that contributes to the overall assessment of the course. When flipped learning is used in a blended learning context, teachers often assign as much as 30% of the marks for the course to assessments taken on pre-class reading assignments (Schell, 2012) and a similar stance may need to be taken with distance learning courses. Other extrinsic motivational factors may also affect this issue, such as the level of education and students' reasons for taking the course. For example, teenage students in the maintained sector on a mandatory course may need far more “stick and carrot” than mature, post graduate students on a vocational course where their success can be clearly mapped to future promotions and increased remuneration.


Greater completion rates at stage 1 are likely to be achieved by ensuring students feel intrinsic motivation from genuine engagement with the tasks. Maximising cognitive absorption, a concept that includes temporal dissociation, focused immersion, and heightened enjoyment (Saade & Bahli, 2005, p. 318) would help students maintain their concentration and general interest. One of the reasons low order cognitive tasks often take place under the supervision of teachers in classroom is that while students do not usually find these tasks difficult, they would otherwise avoid them due to a relative lack of engagement. It is therefore particularly important in an online context with lower teacher presence for students to gain a relative degree of pleasure from these tasks or more cynically, some other forms of extrinsic award such as stars, badges or points towards some kind of material or monetary gain. This will also involve varying tasks, breaking them down to avoid cognitive overload and lack of focus, while also ensuring the tasks are at the right level of difficulty for the learner. 


To ensure all learners have a sufficient understanding to participate at stage 2, the differentiation will have to be of the content rather than the intended learning outcomes.  Software is available to help instructors manage differentiated  learning and enable students to take an individual pathway to arrive at the common point where they have  sufficient knowledge and understanding to participate in stage 2. Scalise (2007, p. 4) proposes five types of differentiation which are suitable in e-learning courses including diffuse and self-directed approaches where students engage with some or all of the content they receive. Boolean differentiation where software uses Boolean logic such as  “rule-based frameworks or decision trees, to determine how to adjust content for different students” (Scalise, 2007, p. 4)  would seem to offer an individual pathway for each student that would ensure reasonably comparable outcomes. It could be argued that other differentiation types could have a place in online flipped learning, depending on the experience of the student and the degree to which they are comfortable with choice.


Video content can be differentiated by the use of inserted questions, resulting in students accessing the sections most appropriate to their existing level of understanding,using in-video questions or mixed media video with forms offering ways of making knowledge-transmission-type content more interactive, encouraging the students to pay attention and actively engage with the material. For example, a video showing a process might ask student to complete an embedded Google form as they watch. This is intended to ensure that students have understood and will remember the main points and the results of this can be sent to the teacher, who can choose to use or share this information as part of stage 2. 



While lack of motivation is a risk when using the face-to-face classroom, it could be argued that it is a far greater in online courses, not least due to the greater responsibility on the student for time management, the increased likelihood of external commitments, cognitive and affective issues. A useful framework for examining motivational factors is the concept of self-regulated learning which looks at “the cognitive, metacognitive and affective strategies self-regulated learners employ while learning and that describe the learning process” (Dembo, Junge and Lynch, 2006, p. 186).  Although the framework of self-regulated learning has been primarily applied to face-to-face learning, it could be argued that its lessons are even more pertinent to online learning where a lack of physical proximity to other students and the teacher can place such a challenge on so may learners. Cognitive strategies employed by self-regulated learners include effective strategies for engaging with new information, such as rehearsal strategies for learning factual material (such as note-taking), elaboration strategies for linking new information to old (such as précising and posing questions), and strategies for structuring content (such as diagrams). Echoing Salmon's (2011, p. 31) arguments about "learn[ing] about working online along with learning the topic", Dembo, Junge and Lynch (2006) argue that it is essential that online learners are not just taught course content but the most efficient way to acquire it. Fortunately these strategies can be taught and built into the tasks that could be used at stage 1. 


In responding to these criticisms, flipped learning might incorporate, for example, elements of Salmon's (2011) 5-stage model, or perhaps look to connectivism - a theory of learning for the digital age first discussed by Siemens (2005; Anderson and Dron, 2011). While Kop (2011) identified self-directed learning, social presence and critical literacies as the three major challenges to connectivist online learning, some of the suggestions above would address these challenges. 



4. How does flipped learning support or enhance learning outcomes? 


Flipped learning aims to provide a learning environment that can simultaneously appeal to a range of learners. Osciak and Milheim (2001) argue that all eight of Howard Gardner's  multiple intelligences can be utilized in online education to ensure learner engagement and active learning takes place, building on Nelson's (1998) argument that where-ever the student is located, the flexibility of online learning provides the opportunity for all intelligences to be represented. This flexibility is part of flipped learning. The initial ‘first exposure’ stage allows the teacher to provide input using a number of different methods and sources: videos, texts, screencasts, webquests, amongst others.  This allows the learner to have a choice of input that they feel will best allow them to achieve their goals (Lage, Platt and Treglia, 2000). A further benefit provided by having a range of input is the facility for a learner to move through the material at his or her own pace.  Learners have the opportunity to supplement their studies by reviewing additional sources of information and building their level of understanding by going back and re-watching the input.  This provides learners with more time for reflection when compared to the fast paced nature of face-to-face classrooms (Garrison and Kanuka, 2004; So and Brush 2008 cited in Strayer, 2009). 


Flipped learning provides learners with options as to how they interact with content.  Traditional passive forms of interaction are now being used alongside more interactive methods where the content is able to adapt based on the performance of the learner (Garrison & Anderson, 2005).  This can mean that the learner is moved through content at a different rate or that the level of challenge is varied to better meet the learner’s needs.  This helps to establish a more independent learning environment and the flipped classroom model has been championed as a way to provide students with a personalized experience akin to individual tutoring (Koller, 2011). 


Stage 2 provides the teacher with the opportunity to focus more on individual learners where instruction can be personalized for each student (Talbert, 2012).  This can again allow the teacher to tailor the content/support to the specific learner and to respond to individual emerging needs. The move away from a traditional lecture towards more guided support has resulted in more teacher-student interaction (Lage, Platt and Treglia, 2000).  The teacher is able to provide far more individual support than would be available in a traditional setting.  This has been praised by teachers who found the classes more stimulating and varied (Lage, Platt and Treglia, 2000).  In turn the flipped classroom approach has also been found to encourage more sharing of materials between faculty members. 


The range of input sources can cause learners to feel confused about what exactly is expected of them and along with the range of activities that are carried out in class time, learners lose the structure that they know and understand from a traditional classroom and can feel that they are being abandoned (Talbert, 2012). There is a need for learners to learn ‘how to do’ a flipped class (Strayer, 2009, p. 181), as their traditional classroom skills are not necessarily suitable. One positive outcome of this lack of comfort is that learners tend to turn to their peers for additional support.  This has been found to result in far more collaborative learning than is common in traditional classrooms.   Students have been found to begin to value more the views of their peers and also form groups to work through the pre-class material.  Lage, Platt and Treglia (2000) found that this increased focus on collaboration has had a particularly beneficial role in female learners who naturally favoured collaborative working. In fact, stage 2 of a flipped learning approach allows for the inclusion of other approaches to teaching and learning, such as Peer Instruction , for which there is a greater evidence base than flipped learning alone. For example, students can be helped to engage with deep learning about a topic via Peer Instruction as follows: the whole class is presented with a multiple choice question, the answers to which indicate the extent to which students have established an accurate conceptual understanding. Assuming a significant number of incorrect answers, the students discuss the question in small groups - the responses should be withheld to prevent students acquiescing to the most popular response. The whole group reforms to discuss the final answer, with the students having had the opportunity for discussion and to develop their thinking with their peers. Technologically, this could be achieved in a classroom or online with a wide range of student numbers, using tools such as clickers, Nearpod or a webinar tool with breakout rooms (e.g. WebEx). Another option is the incorporation of e-portfolios for students to document their learning outcomes and processes throughout all stages of the flipped classroom. E-Portfolios also have a strong evidence base and could be used in conjunction with classroom or online flipped learning (JISC, 2012).


Frederickson (2005, as cited by Strayer 2009, p. 191) found that learners in inverted classrooms "become more aware of their own learning process" and  needed more time to reflect on the learning activities to make the required connections to the course content.  Increased learner awareness of the learning process also leads to increased familiarity and reliance on tools that when found to be valuable are used for the remainder of the course (Lage et al, 2000). Further, the use of preferred synchronous and asynchronous tools in online flipped learning could take account of Paechter & Maier's (2010, p. 296)  findings that students prefer face-to-face learning components "to agree on a shared meaning and/or to come up with a joint solution" and favoured online learning components for the sharing of information.


Research into effective learning techniques by Dunlosky et al. (2013) suggests that re-reading is as effective as re-writing for learning material, (re)testing is more effective than re-study for learning, and spreading study out over time - often called distributed learning, is effective for learning . However, neither the optimum amount of spacing nor its optimal timing is known (for spacing for learning semantic knowledge see Cepeda et al. 2008, for timing see Goedert and Miller, 2008). (Stafford and Dewar, 2014). However, the importance of distributed learning is highlighted by Ericsson et al., who in their proposed framework "the role of deliberate practice in the acquisition of expert performance", suggested that individual differences in performance "are actually the result of intense practice extended for a minimum of 10 years" rather than differences in innate ability (1993, p. 363). In essence, whatever kind of knowledge or skill is being learnt, learning slows as it progresses (Rosenbaum, Carlson, and Gilmore, 2001; Stafford and Dewar, 2014). Looking at the kinds of practice that result in immediate and long-term performance increases, Stafford and Dewar (2014) found that "lawful relations exist between practice amount and subsequent performance, and between practice spacing and subsequent performance", reflecting previous studies in this area. The best immediate performance comes through learning by massed practice, whereas the best long-term retention comes through spaced practice (Rosenbaum, Carlson, and Gilmore, 2001). Comparable results have been reported for the impact of the frequency of feedback on learning and exposing learners to a greater variety of learning material has been found to result in worse initial performance, but better later performance (ibid.) Hattie placed the effect size of spaced versus massed practice fifth in his hierarchy of teaching effects on learning. (See figure 1 above)



5. Are the benefits and affordances of flipped learning dependent upon particular contexts?


Strayer (2009) questions whether learning tasks that are not clearly defined (a potential feature of flipped learning) would frustrate learners on an introductory course. Strayer suggests that flipped learning is more suited to students who have been studying a subject for a greater length of time and  a deeper level of interest than those new to the subject. Certainly, novice language learners may find flipped learning (especially online-only) too challenging if the technology used is also in the target language, particularly if the teacher does not have sufficient command of a student's first language to offer appropriate support. Equally, intermediate and advanced language learners may gain additional benefits by using technology in the target language.


Considering the needs of young learners, Cole (2008, p. 8), for example, found that "some work better alone while others preferred to work with teachers or authority figures".  Stage two of flipped learning could be particularly beneficial for young learners who tend to identify more with their peers, and model their behaviours, than they do with adults (Cole, 2008).  The chance to exploit this trait through collaborative activities  should provide additional support to young learners that may otherwise be missing in a traditional classroom environment. Flipped learning is also popular with parents of young learners -  84% of parents asked, said that "the flipped classroom was their preferred method of instructional delivery for their children" (Fulton, 2012, p. 23). This is due to the access it gives parents to the materials, allowing them to learn as their children do and to offer far greater levels of support during stages 1 and 3. 


In the UK, online distance education tends to be at postgraduate level, focussed on continuing professional development, and “concentrated around courses in business, law, medicine, science and education” (Hanover Research, 2011, White et al., 2010). This contrasts with the trend in the US, where undergraduate degrees predominate fully-online programs. (Hanover Research, 2011). Legislation in India offering a payrise and pension increase to those who earn online degrees has led to “one of the fastest rates of adoption for distance learning” (Hanover Research, 2011, p. 8), whilst “Barney Pityana, Vice-Chancellor of the University of South Africa (UNISA), declared that Africa has the greatest demand for higher education,and often the smallest capability to deliver it domestically” (ibid.). The challenge for the international market is to ensure the curriculum is flexible enough for students to apply what they learn in the global market place (ibid). Flipped learning can offer a way of delivering this flexibility.


Ladner et al. (2004) report the erosion of distinctions between on-campus and distance learning students and courses, brought about through technology. Mobile learning (m-learning) and cloud computing are key trends in online teaching and learning, and they have much to offer flipped learning online. Through m-learning, online students can access resources, record information, experiences and reflection, and collaborate and communicate with fellow students from a small mobile or tablet device, over wifi or data connections, or (for some features) even while offline. Many of the tools listed in the appendices are not only cross-platform, but also multi-device, with Apple, Android and even Windows apps available. Many tools sync across devices, meaning that students can readily pick up where they left off and take advantage of any spare time for their studies. This is particularly useful for online students who study part-time,around the demands of family and/or work life. This also makes it easier to provide accessible materials to students, irrespective of their choice of computer device or disability.


There is little in the literature to identify particularly (un)suitable contexts that would benefit from a flipped approach and it is important to acknowledge the predominance of US and UK secondary and tertiary educational settings in the existing research. Certainly, contexts with sound technological infrastructure and a culture of utilising Open Educational Resources ("freely accessible, openly licensed documents and media that are useful for teaching, learning, educational, assessment and research purposes" Wikipedia, 2014b) may find it easiest to adopt and benefit from this approach.





In this assignment, we have considered definitions of flipped learning, whether this approach can be implemented online, criticisms and benefits of flipped learning and whether its affordances are particularly evident for specific contexts.



Its intrinsic pattern of distributed learning (over time and with appropriate spacing) and potential to move along the continuum from teacher-focussed, knowledge-transmission approaches to genuinely learner-centred, collaborative, active learning supported by a teacher is in keeping with sound pedagogy. The learning benefits for students include meeting wider study skills and employability needs through the development of enhanced digital literacies. 



Flipped learning is still undergoing the process of confirming its definition and requires further research, and the preparation required by teachers in implementing online flipped learning should not be underestimated.



It creates a convenient model for the integration of many technologies, teaching approaches and differentiation strategies and the correlation of onsite and distance learning courses.



It is predicated on the basic idea that lower order learning can be more easily achieved than higher order thinking when students are working on their own but this may not be true for all students.


In summary, we conclude that flipped learning has the potential to offer much to teaching and learning online by incorporating those elements of classroom and online teaching and learning that have a robust evidence base. Flipped learning is already encouraging classroom teachers to take advantage of the affordances of appropriate technology as part of a blended approach. Perhaps the extension of flipped learning to online only, with the assumed accompanying research to demonstrate its value, might help redress the balance of perceptions about the potential quality and enjoyment offered by online learning for any doubting teachers, students and parents. 



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